I’ve spoken in the past about approaching college planning like a project manager. There are many steps to take, lots of aspects to “manage” and there’s an order to which your efforts should unfold for your project to be a success, just as in a kitchen remodel. With that in mind, this time of year is when you (and your student) should start identifying and approaching teachers regarding letters of recommendation for college. By doing this before the end of junior year, your student will be well ahead of their peers by the time they’ll really need them in September.
Remember, you won’t be the only one asking for letters from teachers - you don’t want to get lost in a blizzard of requests.
And while it may seem like a good strategy to approach the teachers of the student’s strongest subjects, it’s also worthwhile to approach teachers who can reflect on subjects where the student showed the most growth and progress. Recommendations based on a student’s natural strengths can impress, but so too can one that focuses on improvement, because it demonstrates a willingness to overcome a challenge.
It’s also helpful to identify teachers that have sound relationships with the student. Not only can they speak to the academic prowess of the student, they’re more likely to speak on personal qualities as well, because they simply know the student better. And those personal touches can round out the student in the mind of the reader (admissions) as a likable person, vs. a cold, passionless assessment of an academic achiever. Remember, a human will be reading these letters – personalizing and humanizing the student only stands to benefit how they’re perceived. Helping admissions understand the type of student – and person – who’ll be walking their campus is the main goal.
After you’ve received commitments from teachers to write your letters, be sure to provide them with as much relevant information as possible. Academic history, specific experiences or achievements, work history, deadlines and any questionnaire your high school may require as a part of the process should be provided up front. Remember, teachers – especially popular/highly regarded ones – can get inundated with requests. Making it as easy for them to complete the task thoroughly and on time will help reduce stress related to deadlines. If you do begin to feel the teacher is dragging their feet, polite reminders are OK. Asking them if they need any more information from you is a great, subtle reminder. “Hey dude, I asked you for this 4 weeks ago” is not.
If you’d like to learn more about letters of recommendation or college planning in general, please check out my book Never Pay Retail for College by selecting from the menu above.